Managing our personal finances
During my last vacation I wanted to move how we manage our personal finances away from the ad-hoc spreadsheet that we had been using for the past few years. I envisioned something server side, so I wouldn't need to add software on my wife's computer. And initial quick run through of server side software did not yield anything that interested me. In general I could only find full accounting applications, which would have been an over kill for personal finance/expense tracking. So then I checked through some desktop applications. I looked at the following:
I found many others, but I only tried these two. The most common suggestion among Open Source advocates is GNU Cash, but I did not try that because it was too big for my modest requirements. I installed these two but I was not able to get it to do what I wanted. Which was be able to import transactions from my back and entered into the the application. So I went back searching to the web this time looking for "personal finance" instead of "accounting" and found this web application (amongst others):
So I installed it and was able to run it on my home server. (This was the first of these types of application that I managed to run, so I was initially happy). So, running it, it looked OK, had an AJAX based user interface, etc. Did not have anything in the way to import the data files from my bank, but since it is Open Source, I could easily make up something for it. So I modified it to include a page to import my bank data. This seemed to work OK. That's when the annoyances started. PFMGR author had an specific use case in mind, so it can track not only money accounts but share accounts. While nice, I did not have such investments, so that feature was unused, but it will show on the forms (annoying). A lot of the functionality of the software was around check reconciliation. Since I don't use checks, that is not useful for me at all. Finally, I couldn't get the reports to work at all, and the times that they did work, they did not give me the information that I wanted. I figured, since this is all open source I could just add/remove the features the way I wanted. Which curiously turned out I would remove all the features and just keep PFMGR as a simple CRUD application. So I figure I might as well toss it all out and find a small PHP Framework that could do CRUD. So I came across this tutorial:
So it gives a gentle intro to the FatFreeFramework. This was just what I was looking for. I can say for simple applications, this is perfect. I was able to get started into my own personal finance application. Did run into a few problems. Most of it around the fact that Fat-Free (aka as F3), although has a very gentle learning curve, and one can get things started very quickly, it did a few things that I was not expecting. Well, actually, for a novice programmer, it did things right. For somebody used to using PHP directly, I would add some code to escape and protect against invalid inputs, F3 was doing it automatically which caused me a few headaches until I realized what F3 was doing. My main problem with F3 is that my schema required a wide varchar column and that seemed to cause problem with its ORM mapper. Later I will write a simple test case and see if I can track down the issue.